Some players do it with accountant-like consistency and Sherlock Holmes levels of curiousity - whilst for others it never crosses their minds, and they couldn't care less. I mean, keep a spreadsheet of personal chess results, and analyze them statistically. I fall into the former group, and as a follow up to Jonathan's post I'll share two things that I've learnt from my stats - and how these discoveries have recently changed my play*.
To begin with, I found my results as black and white are strikingly different: an average grade of 152 versus that of 171. When I noticed this discrepancy earlier this year, the gap was even larger than that - but since then I've been playing more cautiously as black, frequently seeking no more than liquidation if it's available, especially against 1.d4 or higher rated opponents. And in the background, I'm also now developing an opening repertoire as black. A relatively uncomplicated story of opening problems and expectations emerged, in other words, and I'm working on it.
But, a bigger and far more complex surprise awaited me when I sliced the data by grading bands. Before I go on to try to interpret what I found, here are the details.
Firstly, I found that my average performance against players graded less than 160, is 162. Since I have a grade of 160, this is pretty much as you might expect. Secondly, I found my average performance against players graded 170 and above is rather more impressive - at 176. These two facts of course now imply a third; that against players rated from 160 to 169, my average performance falls through the floor. And this is indeed the case; it's 136. Colour is not especially responsible either - with black my average is 131 versus 160s, with white it's 146 versus 160s. And to top it off, in these last twenty months I've never actually beaten an opponent in the 160 grading band - whilst against the stronger, 170+ players, I've scored +2 =6 -2.
So, how to explain that I do so much worse against 160s?
I had some ideas but wasn't sure, so also discussed it with a few friends. One suggestion was that us 160s are different: we're talented but lazy, or really 190s but drink too much, or we've a wacky style that bamboozles weaker opponents, but never catapults us over 170, but that is rather good against Tom Chivers . . . Now I rather doubt all this stuff, but it did get me thinking on the nature of being a 160.
In fact, I realised, being a 160 is something I know rather a lot about, since I've been one since I was seventeen. And it's also something I think about now and again, usually along the lines of: why I am wedged at this level? Now that kind of thought is probably quite useful against 170+ players, because it reminds me to be vigilant and respectful. But sat opposite a fellow 160, that kind of thought goes somewhere else instead. I start thinking of the game as a potential symbol of improvement: if I start winning these, maybe next season I'll be over 170. And then I start thinking: of course, someone over 170 should mop up against a 160, and that could be me next season. And finally it all boils down to: time to wipe this one off the board! - and a few mad moves later, I'm blundering material, and have lost to another 160.
So, what can we learn from chess statistics? It seems - to me - rather a lot. I've provided two examples from my own findings - firstly and simply, I am not good with black. Secondly and more elaborately, that in trying to prove to myself I'm better than the average 160, I transform myself into the worst 160 ever. Now of course comes the more difficult part: factoring back into my play these findings. Maybe I've started already - I did after all draw as black against a 162 on Monday. Or maybe - who knows - I'll be in the 150s next season, and cured that way of such pretensions and problems? One way or another, I'll continue to monitor any personal chess changes. Using, of course, statistics.
* The statistics go back twenty months - to when I came back to chess, in other words, after a couple of years away. Before that I kept no record.
Also, here is a quick note for those outside of Britain or unfamiliar with our system of chess grading. The approximate equivalents from our grading system to the Elo ratings are:
136 ECF = 1930 FIDE = 2094 USCF
150 ECF = 2000 FIDE = 2157 USCF
160 ECF = 2050 FIDE = 2202 USCF
170 ECF = 2100 FIDE = 2247 USCF
Note: Here is a basic template for a chess results recorder, which calculates your ECF grade so far. More sophisticated statistics (eg by colour, etc) have to be done 'by hand.'